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Ottawa says it can’t intervene in CRTC’s BCE-Astral decision

CRTC chairman Jean- Pierre Blais holds a news conference in Gatineau Quebec to anounce that the CRTC has rejected Bell Media's bid to purchase Astral Media , Thursday October 18, 2012.

FRED CHARTRAND/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The federal government won't get involved in the CRTC decision to block BCE Inc.'s takeover of Astral Media Inc., Industry Minister Christian Paradis said Friday.

The Minister said the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission is an independent body that makes its own decisions.

"The CRTC operates on an arm's length from the government," Mr. Paradis said at an event at the Canadian Space Agency, south of Montreal.

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"I understand that they held hearings and they made their decision, so at that point I will no longer comment since the decision is still there.

"Bell, I don't know what they will do, but the decision was clear in terms of a conclusion and we do respect what the CRTC said on this regard."

A spokesman for Canadian Heritage Minister James Moore said the government doesn't believe it has the margin of manoeuvre to override the CRTC's decision.

"CRTC decisions are made independent of the government of Canada," said press secretary Sebastien Gariepy said.

"Cabinet has no legal ability to overturn this decision."

The Harper cabinet has of course intervened in some CRTC decisions. It overturned a decision a few years back in which the regulator ruled that Wind Mobile owner Globalive didn't satisfy Canadian ownership rules. This, however, was under rules in the Telecom Act.

Government sources said they do not believe cabinet can amend Thursday's ruling.

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The CRTC backed up the government on this point Friday saying no appeal of this is possible.

Under the Broadcast Act – if the matter involved the issuance of licences, the Tories could send the decision back to the CRTC to revisit.

But a CRTC spokesman said no appeal is open to BCE because there was no issuance of licences in this case.

The government's response means the Federal Court of Appeal is the only avenue left for BCE.

If the Tories had entertained an appeal from BCE, the company would have had to show the CRTC diverged from the goals set for it by law.

In this case, however, defenders of the broadcast regulator's decision might say the CRTC is squarely within the policy framework set by law – and entirely within the pro-consumer, populist mandate given to the recently appointed chair Jean Pierre Blais.

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With files from Globe and Mail reporter Steven Chase in Ottawa

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